B.C. VIEWS: Bills come due at BC Hydro

Decades of political interference and deferred maintenance, not private power contracts, are behind the push for big rate increases

Reconstruction of Ruskin Dam is underway

VICTORIA – When Christy Clark became premier in 2011, one of her first priorities was to delay steep increases in BC Hydro rates.

BC Hydro was heading to the B.C. Utilities Commission to apply for rate increases totalling 32 per cent over three years. This, obviously, was a problem for an unelected premier whose single message was that she was good for families, and who faced an election in two years.

The government’s Mr. Fix-It, Rich Coleman, first tried to delay a couple of expensive seismic upgrades, adding to the long history of political fiddles that pushed off expensive problems. BC Hydro’s engineers soon convinced him that if the creaky old Ruskin and Campbell River dams were to bust in a quake, it wouldn’t be good for families downstream.

Coleman scraped up some internal savings in the vast utility and met Clark’s pre-determined target of keeping rate increases below four per cent in the pre-election period. Mission accomplished, as George W. Bush might have said.

Then last week, an August working paper on the need for BC Hydro rate hikes was leaked. It showed BC Hydro making a case for new increases totaling 26 per cent over two years. The leak came via the Canadian Office and Professional Employees local 378, the BC Hydro inside staff union that has a history of mostly juvenile attacks on the B.C. Liberal government.

Bill Bennett, the current energy minister, spent the next couple of days repeating to anyone who would listen that this initial proposal had already been rejected, and that work was well along to make the rate increase more palatable. Perhaps it’s back to where it was in 2011.

COPE 378 and the NDP played their rehearsed roles. Both tried to blame the situation on private power contracts. The union and its political front are less concerned about rising power bills than they are about holding onto the state monopoly on electricity generation.

Energy industry lawyer David Austin calculates that of the proposed 26.4-per-cent increase, about 3.5 per cent can be attributed to BC Hydro buying power from private sources, at prices competitive with new public power sources such as the Site C dam. Most of it comes from the overdue repairs to those old dams, other costly projects including the addition of turbines to two Columbia River dams, and deferred debt from previous political meddling.

In August I reported that as many as 20 of BC Hydro’s existing private power purchase contracts will be cancelled or deferred. This was also seized upon to portray private power as the root of all evil, both financially and environmentally.

In fact the attrition rate on these projects has always been about one out of three. This is what happens when the risks of expanding the provincial electrical grid are shared with private investors.

These run-of-river and wind projects were promoted to maximize clean energy sources, as well as to spread the grid to remote areas. This was Gordon Campbell’s climate change strategy.

Then came the gas boom. Clark seized upon liquefied natural gas exports as the key to future prosperity, and the government soon declared burning gas “clean” as long as it facilitates LNG production.

Bennett now acknowledges that gas-fired power plants are an option for the future. They are cheaper than hydro, small or large.

Bennett’s two tasks are to supply industry with cheap power and get consumer rates under control. It looks as if the gas is being turned up, and Site C is moving to the back burner.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalNews.com

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich Peninsula steps into post-pandemic phase

Pending partial re-opening of local schools signals new start

Craft vendors allowed to re-join Goldstream Farmers Market

Dr. Bonnie Henry lightens restrictions, approves non-food items to be sold

Three people sent to hospital following serious crash in View Royal

Incident involved a motorcycle and one vehicle on Sunday afternoon

Tour de Rock alum is newest Oak Bay Police officer

Const. Derek Brand did nine years as volunteer reserve officer

Saanich high school student wins free educational trip through Europe

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize centers on First, Second World War history

VIDEO: Injured bald eagle rescued in B.C. First Nations community

Bird suspected injured in fight, whisked off to Coquitlam rehab

Toronto Raptors’ Ujiri says conversations about racism can no longer be avoided

Thousands have protested Floyd’s death and repeated police killings of black men across the United States

B.C.’s Central Kootenay region declares state of emergency, issues evacuation orders

The evacuation alert covers all areas except the Cities of Castelgar and Nelson

‘I’m afraid’: Witnesses of wolf attack on senior near Prince Rupert worried about safety

Frank Russ shows where the unprovoked wolf attacked his father

Protesters prepare to rally against racism in front of Vancouver Art Gallery

Rally is in response to the deaths of black Americans and a Toronto woman

Man dies in ATV accident south of Nanaimo

Incident happened on backroad Friday night in Nanaimo Lakes area

Protesters rally against anti-black, Indigenous racism in Toronto

Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence

Feds earmark $1.5M to support recovery of B.C., Indigenous tourism

B.C. money will be split between Vancouver Island and Indigenous tourism

‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Tens of thousands marched to protest the death of George Floyd

Most Read